History in Review
Travellers in the Middle Ages: 19 Firsthand Accounts
Edited by Elkan Nathan Adler. (New York: Dover Publications, 1987. Pp. xxii, 392.) ISBN: 0-486-25397-X
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 21, 2002
Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages is an unique book which offers the reader 19 firsthand accounts of Jewish travel during the Middle Ages. It serves as an incredible resource for students of Jewish history and culture. The accounts contained in this collection where written between 801 and 1755, and the accounts touch upon Jewish life in Europe, Africa, and the Near East.
These accounts not only detail the travels of the individual narrators, but they also provide a peerless window into Jewish life and activities during the Middle Ages. The accounts cover the gamut from Ibn Khordadhbeh's account from 817, which chronicles the journey of Persian Jews traveling from China to France, to Eldad the Danites account, written in 880 of having, he thought, discovered the ten lost tribes of Israel - in Africa. A discovery that was 'made' after he was shipwrecked and captured by cannibals!
These accounts were written by a cross section of the population, and include accounts written by scholars, Rabbis, merchants, pilgrims, poets, and a missionary (Rabbi Chisdai ibn Shaprut). These accounts also represent a diverse and far reaching narrative in that they were written by both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.
The text contains nine illustrations, endnotes, and it is well indexed. This is an excellent book. It is not, however, a comprehensive overview of Jewish life in the Middle Ages. Rather it serves as an introductory text that will fuel your desire to delve deeper into this complex and often overlooked period of Jewish history. It is well suited for the general reader as well as historians and students. Each account is preceded by a biographical sketch of the author and insights into the period in which the account was written, as well as a description of what the account covers. The accounts provide a wealth of information on what it was like to travel, as a Jew, as well as insights into the differences in Jewish culture, across time and in various areas.
- The narrative by Rabbi Chisdai ibn Shaprut is especially interesting as it concerns the Khozars (Khazars). Written around 960, this account consists of a letter that Shaprut wrote to the King of the Khozars and the answer that he received. The Khozars were a group of Tartars, in the Crimea, who converted to Judaism and established a Jewish Kingdom in the Crimea, ruled by Jewish Kings.
Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, by Israel Abrahams.
A sweeping social history of Jewish life in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Jews in the Early Modern World, by Dean Phillip Bell.
A detailed and readable overview of Jewish history in the early modern world.
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